I’ve been binging The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and it has inspired me…it is time to bust out Grandma’s brisket recipe and bring back the dinner party! Once upon a time, in mid-century America, dinner parties were the social events, but they seem to have fallen out of style. There are so many advantages to having a small group of friends over for dinner and drinks instead of meeting at a restaurant. For one, it is much more budget-friendly to cook at home than to go out, especially if your group is a drinking crowd. Dinner parties at home allow you to sit and relax for as long as you want. No need to rush out to free up the table for the next set of diners, or suffer glares from a server eager to cash out for the night! And if you have kids but no sitter, you can be the host and send the kids downstairs with popcorn and a movie. (This is more idealistic than what will really happen, but let’s dream, shall we?)
I have hosted a couple of dinner parties in the last few years, and even though hosting is a bit of work, I enjoy it immensely. I tend to get a little “extra” when I plan a dinner, but I hope my guests have enjoyed the time around my table. There are three main areas to consider when planning a perfect dinner party.
Dinner Party Guests
Who will you invite for dinner? Most likely, you have a few besties who pop into mind right away, but don’t be afraid to reach out to different circles of friends and bring them together. Consider how many you can comfortably seat and serve in your home, and which of your friends would get along and enjoy an evening like this. I think 6-8 is a good manageable number, but that is also as big as my dining room table allows!
Menu for the Perfect Dinner Party
This is the most challenging part of hosting a dinner party for me, by far! My husband is the literal chef in the family, but dinner parties are often ladies’ night at my house, so that puts me in charge of cooking.
First, consider any dietary needs of your guests and make sure you have a main dish that they can eat.
I am currently working on a team dinner for my co-workers, one of whom is vegan. I asked her for ideas and recipes, which she happily offered up. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions from those guests! They would much rather share their recipes or favorite brands than show up and not be able to eat what you are serving.
Second, plan dishes that can be made ahead of time and kept warm.
It frees you up from the kitchen to socialize, and also helps eliminate the cooking mess when your guests arrive. Some people will advise against trying a recipe for the first time for your dinner party, but I am more reckless! I usually try at least one new dish and hope for the best. So far (knocking on wood), they have been successful.
Also, if a guest offers to bring something, I say let them!
Dessert or a side dish that complements the food are good suggestions.
Finally, don’t forget to think about your beverage situation.
There’s no need to have a fully stocked bar if you don’t typically keep liquor at home, but it is important to have options for your guests. Know your crowd, and choose a couple things to offer, whether it is some craft beer, red or white wine, or a ‘signature cocktail’ for the evening. Also consider your menu. This can help you decide your drink offerings. Make sure you grab a couple lemons and limes at the store, too. I always forget those!
Set the table
This is my favorite part of hosting! I love setting a fancy dinner table. Did you register for china for your wedding? Dig it out and USE IT! Don’t let it sit in a closet collecting dust. If you don’t have “nice” dishes, don’t stress out about it. Your everyday dishes will be fine as long as they are clean! We happen to have several sets of dishes passed down from grandparents, and I love the excuse to use them. A nice placemat, cloth napkins, a pretty centerpiece, and good lighting will go a long way to make your dining table look great! If you are a candle person, make sure you are lighting unscented candles. You don’t want to compete with the aromas of the food you worked so hard on cooking.
Enjoy your dinner party!
My sister would argue that all of this is pointless, just have friends over for burgers and beers. I think some of those little details help make a memorable, special experience. (She’s the Susie to my Midge!) While our hosting styles differ, we agree that the important part is to spend time with the people you most enjoy.